Creating Social Change That’s Playfully Engaging

One of the most beautiful aspects of systems thinking is that it applies to so many aspects of life. At times though, this ability to learn so much from one thing can be frustrating, particularly when it comes to choosing a particular avenue to explore and experiment with systems thinking.

Two such avenues though have always been dominant within my life. One being systems thinking as it applies to organizational design, particularly startup businesses, and the other being systems thinking as it applies to game design, particularly massively multiplayer games. While people who know me know my interest in both of these areas, what they don’t know is that I’ve been looking at way to merge both of these avenues into one for at least a few years. For me the reasons are obvious, why spend years of research in one area (i.e. games design for entertainment), when I can spend years of research on something that merges both into something much more meaningful (i.e. playful social systems designed for social change).

To understand what I mean, imagine a fusional mix of Jane McGonigal’s Gaming Can Make A Better World, Flickr’s evolutionary origins, Kickstarter, and The Social Network, all rolled into one. Again for those who know me, I’ve hinted at this somewhat in the past when talking about my idea of “connected communities” which arose out of my frustrations of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. We, as a society, need to collectively evolve our intelligence and awareness if we’re going to be able to handle the challenges coming our way. And no I don’t mean a new way of organizing government or businesses, I mean a new way of self-organizing “we the people” to collectively tackle problems head on without the need for centralized command and control type systems that are simply so unreliable within the rapidly changing and volatile times we live in.

Simply put, we need news ways of socially interacting that are more than just individually focused (i.e. Facebook), as this just mirrors the same frustration within massively multiplayer games that follow this same individualistic pattern (typically theme park MMOs). We need systems that give us new ways of interacting as collective groups, rather than just as individuals. So instead of creating social systems that relay our individual awareness (i.e. Facebook), we need systems that relay our collective or group awareness. Yet at the same time, this needs to be done in such a way that the system is sustainable (i.e. decentralized) and simple to use (i.e. emergence-based with simple interactions).

If you’re wondering if I’ve magically come up with such a system, sorry to disappoint you but no I haven’t, even though I do get the occasional insight and realization that evolves my scope of understanding on tackling the subject. For example, this morning I played around with some conceptual ideas of a game-like social system that utilizes “energy” to achieve things within it. This energy is either time-based or money-based and it allows you to use abilities like “attacking” or “defending” a task / quest / cause, while also being able to “heal” or “empower” other individuals working on that task. So again, replicating elements that we see within games but using them in such a way that we can self-organize and overcome heroic challenges in real life (rather than just overcoming virtual heroic challenges and quests within games).

So for me, my dream job is no longer working for an open, sharing, and caring business company or game development company. It’s working within an eclectic company that is a hybrid of both, that’s looking at new ways of developing decentralized social systems that help people to interact within new, sustainable, and enjoyable ways.